Steven Jackson is Senior Vice President, Worldwide Account Director of DDB Chicago. This interview traces the evolution of the Budweiser and Bud Light advertising, two of the most successful American advertising campaigns in recent decades, and both of which rely heavily on ideals of masculinity to brand their beers. Rather than an analytical/critical interview, this is an “ethnographic” interview, the goal of which was to capture Mr. Jackson’s worldview regarding his work. Please note the language that Jackson uses and the reflection theory he invokes.
This interview traces the evolution of the Budweiser and Bud Light advertising, two of the most successful American branding campaigns in recent decades, and both of which rely heavily on ideals of masculinity. DDB (Needham Harper Steers at the time, before the Chicago agency merged with DDB) was assigned the Bud Light account for its launch in 1982. DDB was given the Bud account in 1994, taking over from D’Arcy McManus, which had held the account for over thirty years. Today DDB shares duties with other agencies such as Goodby, Silverstein & Partners (which did the Bud Lizards campaign, for instance).
Both Budweiser and Bud Light are excellent examples of what I call cultural brands. Cultural brands are brands for which the product serves as a vehicle through which consumers experience myths that symbolically “resolve” contradictions in society. When we pay a premium for Budweiser, we’re paying primarily for the stories that have been imbued in the beer. Television advertisements remain the primary vehicle through which firms embed myths in their products.
Beers are one of the prime product categories in which myths of masculinity circulate. Budweiser is a particularly interesting cultural brand because Anheuser-Busch and their ad agencies had to dramatically reconfigure the brand’s masculinity myth in the Nineties when their idealization of American working men as heroic artisans in the “This Bud’s for You” campaign ceased to be effective. In the face of massive layoffs and economic displacements of the early Nineties, American men grew quite cynical about this story. After much struggling, Budweiser finally found an entirely different replacement in the Lizards and Whassup!? campaign. I analyze Budweiser’s evolving masculinity myths in a chapter in a forthcoming book, Cultural Branding (Harvard Business School Press, 2004). The book’s conceptual framework is also outlined in a case study of Mountain Dew (“What Becomes an Icon Most? Harvard Business Review, March 2003).
This interview focuses on masculinity and advertising from a branding perspective. Most academic studies of advertising analyze individual ads. A limitation of such studies is that people watch ads as sponsored communication, and so perceive the stories as told by the brand. Further, they rarely isolate on and respond to individual ads. Rather, viewers develop a cumulative understanding of the brand’s narratives and images by watching numerous ads over extended periods. To understand how ads represent masculinity, then, it is important to analyze branding efforts over extended periods.
Tell me about your history on Bud Light.
I first started working on Anheuser-Busch as their ad agency account person back in 1982, when Bud Light was first introduced. Pretty much, most of my 22-year career has been working at DDB (and Needham Harper Steers before they merged with DDB) on the Anheuser-Busch account. I started as an account person doing promotions and regional work when I was in my mid-20s, and then just kind of moved along and inevitably was in charge of Bud Light Beer, and subsequently was promoted to be the group account director in charge Budweiser when we won the Budweiser business in 1994. Now I’m the senior account manager in charge of all of our Anheuser-Busch accounts: Bud, Bud Light, Busch Beer, and Michelob Ultra.
Please describe what has happened to the Bud and Bud Light businesses over time. What have been the real keys to the success of Bud and Bud Light?
One of the most interesting cases is Bud Light, which is the number one selling beer in the United States. Anheuser-Busch was hesitant to...